One of the most common questions I USED to get had to do with the frequency aspect of workout plans and weight training programs. Specifically, how many times per week should you work each muscle group? So, I wrote an article about workout frequency that I think does a pretty good job of answering that very question.
If you read that article (or The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide), then you know that I am NOT a fan of the typical workout plans that use splits that have you training each muscle group just once per week.
For reasons I won’t repeat again here, all research, real world results, and my own first hand experience basically shows that workout plans where you are hitting each muscle group every 7 days (a once-per-week frequency) are just not optimal for us average people with average genetics.
So then, what is? A frequency where you hit each muscle group about twice per week (every 3-5 days instead of every 7 days).
The one possible exception to this rule is in the case of complete beginners who tend to benefit from a frequency as often as every 2 days (I’ll explain that more in a second). But for everyone else (including those same beginners when they aren’t beginners anymore), having a workout program that trains each muscle group every 3rd-5th day is ideal.
Anyway, since mentioning all of this in that workout frequency article, one of the NEW most common questions I get is what are the best workout plans and weight training splits to use to fit these recommendations?
So, I figured I’d answer that right now by providing a list of what I feel are the BEST splits to use when trying to adhere to this ideal training frequency. In no specific order, these are those splits…
3-day Full Body Workout
Monday: Full Body
Wednesday: Full Body
Friday: Full Body
This is as simple and basic as workout plans get, and that is never a bad thing. You train your whole body, all in the same workout, 3 days per week in an every-other-day format with 2 consecutive days off at the end.
As you can see, each muscle group ends up getting hit every 2nd day. And while this is less than that ideal frequency range of every 3rd-5th I mentioned before, if you’re a beginner (and the one real exception to the 3rd-5th day recommendation), this is just fine. In fact, it’s as good as it gets for you.
This full body split right here is widely agreed upon to be the BEST type of weight training program for beginners. Yeah, it can still work for those who are passed the beginner’s stage, but, it just wouldn’t be ideal anymore.
So if you are a complete beginner, this is really one of the most effective workout plans you’ll ever find. I explain how to set it all up right here: The Total Body Workout Routine
2-day Full Body Workout
Monday: Full Body
Thursday: Full Body
No, this wouldn’t be the ideal workout plan for anyone, but if you can only manage to workout 2 days per week, a split like this is not only your best option, it’s really your only option. Each muscle group ends up getting hit every 3rd or 4th day, which puts this split within the ideal frequency range.
If you can only manage to workout 2 times per week, this is definitely the weight training split for you. That same Total Body Workout article I just mentioned will explain how to set it up.
4-day Upper/Lower Workout
Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: Lower Body
Thursday: Upper Body
Friday: Lower Body
Here is maybe the most popular split of them all for this ideal frequency. And, if you care, workout plans built around this exact split have been nearly all I have used over the last few years. Similar to full body training, an upper/lower split like this is one of (if not THE) most proven weight training splits there is.
Each muscle group gets hit twice per week (every 3rd or 4th day), which is right within range of the ideal workout frequency.
(The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide actually contains the weight training routine I personally use and most often recommend, and it’s built around this very split.)
3-day Upper/Lower Workout
Monday: Upper Body
Wednesday: Lower Body
Friday: Upper Body
Monday: Lower Body
Wednesday: Upper Body
Friday: Lower Body
This is almost identical to the traditional 4-day upper/lower split mentioned above with one significant difference… it’s done 3 days per week instead of 4. There are 2 reasons you’d want to choose this 3-day version over the 4-day version.
First, let’s say you can only manage to workout 3 days per week. If that’s the case, this split is absolutely perfect for you.
The second reason is if you lack the recovery to handle the 4-day version. In that split, you end up hitting each muscle group every 3 or 4 days. With this version of the split, you end up hitting each muscle group every 4 or 5 days. You’re still perfectly in line with the ideal training frequency (every 3-5 days), but this version allows for 1 additional day of rest/recovery than the 4-day version.
If you feel you’d benefit from having that extra day off (some people definitely would) and/or if you would prefer to only workout 3 days per week, this split is perfect for you.
(The weight training routine in The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide works with this 3-day version of the upper/lower split, too.)
The Rotating Poliquin Split
Monday: Chest and Back
Thursday: Shoulders, Biceps and Triceps
Saturday: Chest and Back
Tuesday: Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps
Here’s a split made popular by a guy named Charles Poliquin. As you can see, workout plans built around this split have you hitting each muscle group every 5th day, which still fits our ideal frequency range just fine.
However, while it’s one of the best versions of that typical “body part split” format you are probably most used to seeing, is has 2 potentially big problems.
First, it requires a very flexible schedule. All of the splits listed before this were on a fixed schedule. Meaning, you worked out on the same days every week. With this weight training split, the days keep rotating and you end up having to work out on different days every week. For people with normal jobs, or people in school, or people with kids, or people with pretty typical lives, a split like this is usually really tough to pull off successfully.
The second potential problem with this split is the spacing of the shoulder/biceps/triceps day and the next chest/back day after it. As you can see, there is only 1 day in between. The issue here is that nearly all chest exercises hit your shoulders and triceps pretty hard, and nearly all back exercises hit your biceps pretty hard. And with only 1 day off in between those 2 workouts, proper recovery can certainly be an issue for many people.
So, even though this is still one of the better workout plans for fitting the ideal training frequency, it’s probably my least favorite of the bunch.
The Rotating Push/Pull/Legs Split
Monday: Push (Chest, Shoulders and Triceps)
Tuesday: Pull (Back and Biceps)
Saturday: Push (Chest, Shoulders and Triceps)
Sunday: Pull (Back and Biceps)
Here’s another split that has you hitting each muscle group every 5 days, which is perfectly fine. I like it a lot even though it still suffers from the same scheduling problem the above split had, which is that it requires you to workout on different days every week. It does however eliminate the second problem that the above split had, and that’s a big part of the reason why I like it WAY more than that split.
If you happen to have a schedule that is flexible enough for you to train on different days every week, then workout plans built around this split are a great option for you.
Those Are The Splits
For the most part, that’s a fairly complete list of the best possible workout split options that will allow for the ideal weight training frequency to be reached.
Which one is the absolute best of them all? Well, like I’ve said before, there is no such thing as the best workout. There’s just what works and what doesn’t, and every single split listed above will work when intelligently designed workout plans use them are their template.
Pick one that fits your schedule, your capacity to recover, and your overall training preferences, and then fill in the rest of the workout accordingly.
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